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Vurberk Castle (Slovenia)

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The castle of Vurberk is situated on the southern edge of the Slovenske Gorice hills and was first mentioned in 1238. It was badly damaged during a bombing in 1945. A smaller part of the ramparts was renovated, while the biggest part is still in ruins. Today, the castle is mainly used as a performance site, as there is an "amphitheatre" in its yard.

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      29.10.2011 09:04
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      Small but scenic castle in north eastern Slovenia

      Vurberk Castle can be seen from the main Maribor to Ptuj road, perched high on a hill otherwise covered with first vineyards then, higher up, a rich forest. With its white walls and red roof I often wondered if there was a castle there but couldn't be sure until one day when, looking for a new place to go walking, I spotted the castle marked on a map.

      Vurberk is on the northern side of the Drava, on the southern edge of the Slovenske Gorice and our first attempt to visit it had to be aborted when we learned that the only places to cross the river are at Maribor and Ptuj. We were asking the waiter at a gostilna in Starse, from where you can see the castle quite clearly, and he told us that once a year the people from the villages in the Starse Polje (Plain) get together one Sunday and wade through the river and walk to Vurberk. We weren't up for wading on this particular day so we made a mental note to try again another time.

      Fortunately there's a direct bus from Maribor to Vurberk which passes very near to the castle though we decided to get off a little further away to extend our walk. If you don't want to climb the hill (and it is quite a steep circuitous hike) ask the driver to drop you at the right spot (this is effectively the back of the castle); from here it's a shorter, more gentle climb of just a couple of minutes.

      We started our walk by following the road until it starts to level out then we followed the red and white signs painted on the trees and wound our way slowly up through the trees. It was a warm September day and colourful butterflies were fluttering around us; every now and then we'd quickly shield our heads with out hands as plump horse chestnuts fell from the trees, their casings sharp and thorny. Just below the castle the forest trail turns into a gravelled path lined with wooden benches, each one with a number beside it. Local people discovered that a number of locations in the area - 31 here - were 'energy points', the physician of one of the Herbesteins, noted landowners in the area, believed in the power of these zones and encouraged his patients to take advantage. We followed this path to the castle entrance; beside it there's a viewing point from which you can look down towards the Drava and across to the slopes of the eastern Pohorje.

      Only part of the castle remains; a small gothic tower and the renaissance entrance. Some photographs and drawings exist that show that the castle was four wings around a rectangular core. There was a round defence tower, the ground floor of which was a prison. The castle was two storeys high with lordship's rooms on the first and second floors. An Allied bombing raid in 1945 destroyed most of the castle but what remains has been used creatively with a bank of seating erected to form an outdoor amphitheatre for concerts in summer, and a bar operates in the tower daily from 2.00pm.

      The castle dates from the thirteenth century; it certainly existed by 1238 but is probably from slightly earlier. Documents from 1244 show that the castle was at that time known as Wuermwerg, the name deriving from the German 'Wurm' meaning 'worm, which would correlate with the Vurberk coat-of-arms which depicts a 'worm', a mythical serpent-dragon. The castle has had a chequered history belonging for a time to the Archbishopric of Salzburg and later to local well known families such as the Herbersteins and the Attems whose coats-of-arms can be found on many Slovenian castles. One notable fact about Vurberk is that it never fell to the Turks, even at the height of their brutal raids on the castles of eastern Slovenia.

      From the mid 1880s Vurberk was in civic ownership but it reverted back to the ownership of the Herbersteins in 1907. During the Second World War it was used as a sanatorium by the Russian Red Cross, then, during the German occupation the castle was used as a Nazi political school. On the 22nd February 1945 it came under heavy attack and was left derelict for many years after. Only in the last decade was the roof replaced and the remainder of the façade renovated.

      Some of the treasures from this castle can be seen in the regional museum housed in the castle at Ptuj, among them the cannon from the castle's battery which was last fired in celebration of the victory against Napoleon in 1814.

      Just below the castle is the handsome Church of Our Lady which dates from the 1330s. The church was restored in the eighteenth century and there are two carved Roman stones embedded in the buildings façade; during Roman times the water for Poetovium (now Ptuj) came down from Vurberk. The church is kept locked but it may be possible to arrange to see the interior if you contact the tourist service in Spodnja Duplek.

      There isn't much left to see at Vurberk but the walk is worth the trip alone and the views are pretty special too. Maybe the bio-energy will work for you?

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